Rothwell Corinthians 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds (AET)
AFC Rushden & Diamonds’ first ever season in existence will end with a chance at some silverware, as a late, extra time goal by Louis Smith saw them through to the NSYL Knock-Out Cup Final, at the expense of Rothwell Corinthians.
Both sides went into the game full of confidence; the Diamonds with a 100% record in competitive games in 2012, averaging 4 goals a game since the turn of the year; and Corinthians on a good run of form having beaten title challengers Peterborough Northern Star in the previous round of the competition, and their league results improving despite their lowly position.
Rushden got off to a nervy start in front of an impressive crowd of 283, with the first shooting opportunity of the game falling to the home side on 5 minutes, Callum Plowright latching onto a loose ball before shooting well wide from the edge of the box. Two minutes later, Adam Kerfoot found some space down the right and raced onto a great defence splitting pass, but as he bore down on goal he was denied by a fantastic recovering tackle by Ben Roche.
The visitors’ first chance arrived on 17 minutes, and should really have seen them open the scoring. An Ashley Meeks corner was only cleared as far as Smith 25 yards from goal, who picked out Meeks again on the right flank. His inch perfect cross found the head of James Harrison 10 yards from goal, but the striker couldn’t keep his header down, with the ball sailing over the bar.
The Diamonds began to up their game after this chance and with their confidence clearly growing Meeks tried a shot from all of 30 yards, but his effort flew well wide of the goal. Four minutes later another Meeks corner found the head of Harrison, but this time the chance was far more difficult and the ball again looped high over the bar. From the resulting goal kick the ball was played back over the top of the Corinthians’ defence, allowing Harrison the chance to race through on goal. Harrison reached the ball just ahead of Alex Forward in the Rothwell goal, but his touch was slightly too heavy and he couldn’t keep it in play.
After their lively start to the game, the home side were now struggling to make any impact on the Rushden defence, with the back three of Roche, Danny Bird and Elliot Ames in commanding form. Roche, in particular, was enjoying a superb game, and was keeping the crowd entertained with some dazzling footwork; on two occasions winning back possession with a brilliant timed tackle, before leaving a second opponent for dead with a sublime 360° turn.
On 34 minutes the Diamonds had what appeared to be a strong penalty shout turned down. Zach Farden got forwards from left wing back, and burst into the penalty area before being tripped from behind, but despite vociferous appeals from both the AFC players and supporters the referee waved play on. The ball was hacked clear for a throw in, but before it could be taken the assistant referee on the far side of the pitch spotted an off the ball incident which lead to the booking of Plowright.
As half time approached, the Diamonds finally began to display some of the exciting attacking football that had led them to recent back-to-back victories over ON Chenecks, with the best move of the match occurring on 43 minutes. Lewi Williams picked up the ball in the middle of the park, and charged forwards before laying it off to Harrison. He in turn played in Zaak Moon who picked out Williams’ run with a great ball over the defence, but after escaping the attentions of his marker, Williams dragged his shot just wide of the post.
HT: Rothwell Corinthians 0-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The second half couldn’t have been more than 2 seconds old before the home side picked up their second booking of the game. Straight from the kick off, Harrison played the ball out to the left wing, but was caught late by an unnecessary challenge from his opposite number Marvin Hill.
As they had the first half, Rothwell started the second looking the more threatening side. Four minutes after the restart Kalon Peniasko hit a speculative shot from 35 yards, which whistled narrowly wide of Ashley Foulger’s left hand upright. Two minutes later, Hill fired in a well struck half volley after a Corinthians’ corner had only been half cleared, but his effort flew just wide of the other post.
The Diamonds were soon back in the game though, and on 54 minutes Meeks beat Tom McLaren down the right wing before sending over a great cross to the far post. Farden managed to reach the ball ahead of his marker, but he couldn’t control the volley and the ball looped up and fell just wide of the post, with Forward well beaten.
Just after the hour mark the home side went closest yet to opening the scoring. Peniasko found space to get in a shot from the edge of the box, with the ball taking a massive deflection on its way to the goal. Foulger was wrong footed but managed to adjust his positioning just in time to stick out a hand and somehow prevent the ball from crossing the line.
The Diamonds went even closer just a minute later. A Bird free kick from just inside the Rothwell half was flicked on by Williams and found Farden at the far post, whose shot appeared destined for the back of the net but deflected off a defender and onto the upright. That was Williams’ last involvement in the game, as he was substituted shortly after, with Jeron Thompson the man replacing him.
With 20 minutes remaining of normal time, Callum McNichol embarked on a great run down the Corinthians’ left flank, before crossing the ball low into the AFC penalty area. The ball was crying out for the slightest touch to tap it home, but it somehow managed to evade everyone on both sides, and sailed behind for a goal kick.
Rushden fashioned a gilt edged chance on 84 minutes, as good work down the left wing between Smith and Farden saw Harrison teed up just outside the penalty area, but his powerful first time shot flew up and over the bar. A minute later the hosts received their third booking of the match as Peniasko caught Roche late, long after he had played the ball. As the game entered injury time the Diamonds had one final scoring opportunity, as Bird tried his luck from a 30 yard free kick, awarded for a foul on Alex McDonald, but his effort was well over.
The referee eventually blew up to signal the end of normal time, but not after baffling the entire crowd by playing a ludicrous 10 minutes of injury time. The last two minutes were spent almost entirely inside the Rushden half as Corinthians piled on the pressure, but the defence held firm and didn’t allow them a scoring opportunity.
FT: Rothwell Corinthians 0-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The first period of extra time almost got off to a perfect start for the home side, as Kerfoot set up Hill with an excellent through ball leaving the latter with only Foulger to beat, but the Rushden stopper was quickly off his line and made a great save with his feet.
The Diamonds had their second penalty appeal of the game turned down on 95 minutes, as a shot from Farden struck a Rothwell defender on the arm inside the box, but it was more a case of ball to hand rather than vice versa, and to award a penalty would have been very harsh on the home side.
Five minutes later however, the home side could count themselves very fortunate not to be down to 9 men. Plowright twice escaped a second booking for kicking the ball away in dissent after decisions had not gone to his liking, before Hill caught Roche with another awful late tackle, but also found the referee in a surprisingly lenient mood, having already been booked for a similar foul on Harrison. Roche limped off the pitch following the foul and had to be replaced by Blake Helsdown.
The final five minutes of the first period of extra time saw the Diamonds dominate possession, and twice go close to taking the lead. Thompson and Conor Bell exchanged passes down the left wing, with the former bursting into the area and hitting a cross/shot which forced Forward into his first real save of the game. The Rothwell ‘keeper spilled the ball but managed to gather it at the second attempt, just ahead of the onrushing Harrison.
A minute later Harrison raced onto a long ball out of defence, getting into the Rothwell penalty area before hitting a shot across the face of goal and narrowly wide of the far post.
HT (ET): Rothwell Corinthians 0-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Rushden started the final period brightly, with Harrison again going close inside the opening minute. Thompson broke down the right flank before playing the ball inside to Bell. He in turn lobbed the ball over the defence allowing Harrison to run on and shoot from the edge of the box, but his left foot shot flew inches wide of the post with Forward rooted to the spot.
Chances then seemed to dry up for both sides, although the visitors looked more comfortable in possession of the ball. With most of the ground already discussing who would be taking the seemingly inevitable penalty kicks, the deadlock was finally broken in the 114th minute. The Diamonds won a left wing corner which was curled towards the far post by Meeks, allowing Louis Smith to climb above the defence and nod the ball home from close range, sending the majority of the crowd delirious.
The home side immediately piled on the pressure as they desperately looked for an equaliser. On 117 minutes they came close when the Diamonds failed to deal with a corner kick, but as Hill turned and shot from close range, Foulger came to the rescue with a brave stop at his feet. There was just enough time for McDonald to pick up a booking after illegally breaking up a Rothwell attack, but the AFC defence held firm from the resulting free kick and cleared their lines to progress to the final.
FT (ET): Rothwell Corinthians 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The path to the final has been a flexuous and exhilarating one, with last gasp victories over Daventry Town and now Rothwell Corinthians, sandwiching the performance of the season in the Quarter-Final thrashing of ON Chenecks.
The Diamonds opponents in the final won’t be decided for some time yet, as the opposite side of the draw is still at the Quarter-Final stage. The date and venue for the final probably won’t be announced until the other finalist has been determined, but www.afcdiamonds.com will have all the details as soon as they are confirmed.
The remaining KO Cup Quarter-Finals are as follows:
AFC Kempston Rovers v Woodford United
Wellingborough Whitworth v Cogenhoe United
AFC R&D are back in league action next week, as they travel to Kingsthorpe Mill to take on Northampton Spencer. Click HERE for the match preview.
Man of the Match: Ashley Foulger
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
|21. Alex Forward
2. Joe Pelley
3. Tom McLaren
4. Aidan Smith (c)
5. Elliott Morgan
6. Kalon Peniasko
7. Adam Kerfoot
8. Callum Plowright
9. Marvin Hill
10. Ben Large
11. Callum McNichol
|86. Ashley Foulger
4. Elliot Ames
5. Danny Bird (c)
7. Ben Roche
2. Ashley Meeks
6. Alex McDonald
8. Zaak Moon
10. Louis Smith
3. Zach Farden
9. James Harrison
11. Lewi Williams
12. Jordan Ainsworth
14. Andy Coxon
16. Charlie Hillier (for Large, 106 mins)
17. Cameron Knox (for Morgan, 85 mins)
12. Jeron Thompson (for Williams, 64 mins)
15. Conor Bell (for Moon, 81 mins)
16. Adam Ziolkowski
17. Blake Helsdown (for Roche, 101 mins)
20. Fred Devereaux
L. Smith (114 mins)
Plowright (34 mins, unsporting conduct)
Hill (46 mins, foul)
Peniasko (85 mins, foul)
McDonald (119 mins)
Match Highlights are available Here
All Photographs courtesy of Mal Swinden